National may be acting coy over their policies, but they’ve said enough in recent times that we can predict the basic shape of their industrial relations policy.
In broad terms, I don’t expect radical change. For sure they’re under intense pressure from their corporate paymasters to change things in the bosses’ favour, but there are two good reasons why they won’t go the whole way and re-enact the ECA (even under the guise of amending the current Employment Relations Act, which was the ruse they had planned in 2002 and 2005).
First, they appear finally to have learnt the lesson that NZers don’t want radical neo-liberal reform. The then IR spokesman, Wayne Mapp, was at pains to assure a conference of IR academics at the beginning of last year that this was the case. Since then they have the sobering example of Howard’s defeat, in which the notorious “Workchoices” law played a major part. (Not to mention ACT’s polling.)
Secondly, they don’t need to make major changes in favour of the bosses. The ERA wasn’t a return to compulsory unionism, union monopolies, and extension of awards across industries and occupations. You only have to look at the union membership figures — hovering around 21-22% these last 8 years — and the lack of large pay increases in the face of record low unemployment to see that the ERA hasn’t made a big difference.
So, what will the Nats offer their major sponsors in return for their support? (more…)